ALEA Joins National Safe Boating Week, Highlights Recent Legislative Changes

This week, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Marine Patrol Division proudly joined organizations across the nation to participate and observe National Safe Boating Week, a global initiative which runs from May 18 to May 24.

Boating is a cherished pastime in Alabama, especially during the Memorial Day weekend, which starts at the end of National Safe Boating Week and marks the unofficial start of the summer boating season. With this in mind, the Agency held a press event at the Alabama State Capitol on Tuesday, May 21, to emphasize the importance of safety on the water, along with announcing recent legislation that was signed into law and will greatly enhance safety on the water across the state.

One monumental legislative update was the emergency cut-off switch or “kill switch,” which brought state law into compliance with federal law. The law requires the emergency cut-off switch link to be in use on covered vessels while the vessel is above displacement speed. Covered vessels are any motorized vessel less than 26-feet in length with a propulsion system capable of producing 115 pounds of static thrust, which is essentially a motor of 3 horsepower and greater. It is required of all such vessels constructed on or after January 1, 2020, or such vessels that were already equipped with an emergency cut-off switch prior to or at the time of passage of the Federal law. This new requirement is aimed at protecting occupants of the boat and other vessels from runaway boats by ensuring the engine immediately stops when the operator leaves the helm or is displaced for any reason.

“The safety of all individuals enjoying Alabama’s waterways is paramount,” stated Matt Brooks, Chief of ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division. “Boats can make sudden turns with enough force to throw an operator from the helm or completely out of the boat, causing the vessel to become a deadly hazard to the ejected operator and creates a danger to others in the area. By requiring operators to utilize these switches, ALEA aims to prevent these types of accidents, thus reducing the potential for injuries and fatalities.”

Another legislative act addressed the regulation of wakeboarding and wakesurfing on specific impounded waters of the state. This measure seeks to mitigate potential hazards associated with these activities while preserving the natural beauty and recreational value of Alabama’s bodies of water.

This act, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2023, regulates wakeboarding and wakesurfing on the waters of the state impounded by Lewis Smith Dam (Lewis Smith Lake), R.L. Harris Dam (Lake Wedowee or the R.L. Harris Reservoir) and on Shoal Creek in Lauderdale County north of Highway 72. According to the new law, a person may not engage in wakeboarding or wakesurfing between sunset and sunrise, on portions of water where the width is less than 400 feet, within 200 feet from any shoreline, dock, pier, boathouse or other structure located on the impounded waters, and while not wearing a personal flotation approved by the United States Coast Guard.

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